“You Guys Contrived This System”


Writing in the Orlando Sentinel, its clear that columnist Scott Maxwell has had it with FCAT and the policy-makers who brought it to us:

To fully appreciate how deeply flawed Tallahassee’s approach to public education is, you must look beyond the recent news of abysmal FCAT scores — and look at how we got here.

You see, FCAT was supposed to be a simple fix for a complicated problem.

If we could just get our students to pass this standardized test, supposedly everything would be swell.

So we cut back everything from science curriculum to art classes to focus on these tests.

And we spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars paying companies to develop and grade them.

Teachers were no longer trusted to teach.

Everyone was made to bow down at the almighty altar of FCAT.

Yet this year — after more than a decade of FCAT obsession — more than 70 percent of our fourth-graders flunked the writing test.

We saw similarly sorry results in eighth and 10th grades. Third-graders posted the lowest reading scores in years. Math scores dropped as well.

This can mean one of only two things:

Either the test-centered method of teaching is a failure.

Or the test itself is a failure.

There really is no option C.

Yet all I’m hearing from state officials is excuses — such as maybe the teachers didn’t understand what was expected of them.

Hogwash.

You guys contrived this system.

Instead of letting teachers and principals decide how to educate children, you did. (Together with Pearson, whose $254 million contract to develop and grade these tests should be re-examined.)

And using your methods, they failed.

So how about you guys stop pointing fingers?

It’s time to demand accountability from the test that claims to demand it from everyone else.

And, no, simply lowering the passing grade so that more kids pass isn’t a solution. It’s a cop-out.

My son is actually one of the much-talked-about fourth-graders.

He passed the writing FCAT — part of the 27 percent who passed before the state inflated the grades so things wouldn’t look as bad.

Yes, according to the state of Florida, my son knows precisely what he should.

Still, I’m here to tell you I trust his teachers and principals to decide how to educate him more than I do politicians and bureaucrats in Tallahassee.

Test-obsessed teaching doesn’t produce well-rounded, creative-thinking individuals. It yields formulaic bubble-fillers.

And apparently Florida isn’t even very good at producing that.

The cost of this test-obsessed teaching is extreme. Science classes are dropped. Social-studies programs are shrunk.

Art classes get cut. P.E. becomes irregular.

Anyone with common sense knows that’s a problem.

If politicians didn’t know that before, they know now that the system they created flunked the testing process they devised.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s paying attention. His Education Department even generated a report in response to the FCAT debacle titled: “Higher Standards: The Right Thing to Do.”

Congratulations, Governor. You’ve got yourself a catchphrase. Now get something that actually improves the way our kids learn.

The problem isn’t low standards. It’s this test-obsessed method of teaching.

When most of us were growing up, government didn’t dictate every little thing we learned.

When Mrs. Perkins wanted to teach me algebra, she developed her own lesson plans and her own exams.

And you know what? We got to be a pretty darn successful country that way.

Call it “socialized education.” Call it whatever you want. It worked.

We led the world. America grew strong with community schools led by teachers and principals supported by parents and elected officials.

There wasn’t an abundance of politicians demonizing teachers or sucking up campaign donations from companies that profit off school “reform.”

Not everything was perfect. Reforms were and still are needed. For instance, I think merit pay is a must. Good teachers should be rewarded. Bad teachers should be shown the door.

I think we need accountability and measuring sticks as well. We should track everything from graduation and college-placement rates to performance on nationally accepted standardized tests and even job placement.

Standardized tests can play an important role. But they can’t be the be-all and end-all — especially at the expense of other crucial parts of learning.

That’s a failed way of thinking.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from the state’s own numbers.

I can’t add much to that. Maxwell’ s onto the fact that the state’s own data shows that this “test-obsessed system” is a failure. There isn’t a debate among the state’s editorial pages or its columnists on testing’s virtue. Condemnation, in fact, has been state-wide. Gerard Robinson has been dismissive of parents during his “listening” tour. Worse for him and his handlers, his message is ineffective on parents weary of Florida’s decade old “test-obsessed system.”

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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